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Build a Healthier Meal for Your Children

As much as parents may try, research suggests that most children’s diets fall short of the ideal. In fact, American children eat more sugary and salty food products than healthy, freshly prepared, nutritionally balanced meals. This may explain why too many children are overweight or obese. Alarmingly, even at a young age, this type of diet lays the groundwork for heart disease.

Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago recently examined the diets of 8,900 children from 2 to 11 years old and found none doing everything right. The study's criteria for a healthy diet included four and a half cups of fruit and vegetables and three servings of whole grains daily, plus two servings of fish a week and limited amounts of sugar and sodium. Approximately 30% of the children in the study were found to be overweight or obese and 40% had cholesterol levels that caused concern.

In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced MyPlate, a visual aid to remind Americans of the relative amounts of each food group that create a balanced meal.

"Bad eating habits may set children up for health problems later in life," says Cathy Davis, RD, a dietitian in Good Samaritan’s Center for Pediatric Specialty Care. "Parents should structure meals by following the My Plate recommendations and limiting added sugar and salt. By establishing good eating habits early on, parents can help hard-wire the building blocks of a healthy diet."

The USDA website explains the MyPlate emphasis on fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. It offers a Spanish version called MiPlato, as well as an online meal tracker that allows parents and children to plan, analyze and track diet and physical activity. Special children’s activities help encourage children to learn more about nutrition and healthy eating. The site provides tools to enable goal setting, virtual coaching and a journal to track your progress.

Click here for more information on MyPlate, weight management, calories, physical activity and healthy eating tips.